HBCUs and eSports: a match made in STEM heaven?

Maryland is blessed to have four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (UMES).

Each of these schools has a rich academic and athletic history. Legendary athletes such as basketball players Allyson Dobbins (Bowie) Larry Stewart (Coppin), and football players Willie Lanier (Morgan), and Art Shell (UMES) among many others come from Maryland HBCUs. The same is true for business, cultural and political leaders such as Roland Smith, an associate provost at Rice University (Bowie); Bishop Robinson, Baltimore’s first black police commissioner (Coppin), civil rights leader and politician Kweisi Mfume (Morgan), and actress Starletta DuPois (UMES).

The same resources that produced such stellar graduates should now be directed to making Maryland the eSports capital of the world. ESports is a form of competition utilizing video games. Generally, it is done by teams in organized events in arenas, and it is booming around the world, primarily in Asia.

HBCUs can lead the way in making Maryland the capital of eSports. This necessitates a joint effort between the HBCUs, businesses, schools and the state government at all levels. What it will not require, if done right, is much in the way of new funding.

There are three ways to proceed to maximize the impact whiling minimizing the expenses.

First is to include eSports in the Unified Sports Program at Maryland high schools. This is a wonderful athletic endeavor that pairs special needs students with varsity athletes and others at Maryland high schools to play sports such as tennis, bowling and bocce ball. It receives nothing but rave reviews. One of the many great things about eSports is that those on the Autism Spectrum and others who would not ordinarily be on an athletic team can excel in eSports.

To take eSports from the province of the athletic department to preparing the entire student body for rewarding computer, scientific and other technical careers, it should be part of the Signature Program, magnet, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) offerings at Maryland schools. All of those programs seek to prepare Maryland students for careers in the future workforce, which will be more technical than the workforce of today. Nine public high schools in Maryland were rated among the best for STEM by US News & World Report. These are located in Baltimore, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties. Introducing an eSports presence to augment these programs will improve the school programs even more.

Where the HBCUs enter is in providing a varsity college program for eSports student-athletes in Maryland. Courts have ruled that Maryland has long underfunded its HBCUs. Annapolis can go a long way to rectifying this tragedy by financing varsity eSports programs at Bowie, Coppin, Morgan and UMES. All of Maryland will benefit from the state taking this action.

Bowie, Coppin, Morgan, and UMES all have the academic and athletic infrastructure to make this happen. Based on personal experience, each has an excellent athletic director, dedicated to their school and devoted to the well-being of their student-athletes. Leaders in the state of Maryland need to now do their part by making eSports a bigger part of the schools and the institutions of higher learning. Once Maryland dominates in eSports, the entire state will reap the winnings.

Jonathan Yates is the host of "The Culture of Sports” on Anne Arundel Cable (www.thecultureofsports.com).

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